Mort: Dick Lupoff

Just got a note from Tom Krabacher linking to the Locus obit on Dick Lupoff, who died today at age 85.

If you recall, Krabacher and Lupoff and I were all hanging out at an Edgar Rice Burroughs mini-convention not so long ago — the last time I would see Lupoff, as it turned out. Before that I attended the book release party for his autobio in Borderlands Books. Before that — who can say? I would see Lupoff fairly often for awhile, then a few years would pass. A few times I saw him at some convention, but then I don’t hit many conventions. I encountered him more often socially, usually at his house. He got a mention in the obit I did on Stan Sargent from one of those just-hanging-out sessions.

In the intro to the Robert E. Howard collection Tales of Weird Menace in 2010 I gave Lupoff credit for being a cornerstone figure in the sort of thing I ended up doing.

In memoriam, here is the excerpt:

By the time I edited The Dark Barbarian in 1984 I had plenty of models to work from, Starrett among them. But where as a kid in Tennessee could I have gotten even the glimmer of the concept that that you could do a whole book about a favorite author, especially a writer like Howard? I must have known that books had been written about someone like Ernest Hemingway, but I didn’t want to do books about Hemingway— I had something to say about the prolific pulp fictioneer from Cross Plains, Texas.

I realized that the answer to this mystery was right under my nose as soon as I saw that Howard’s short novel Skull-Face anchors this collection.

Oh, yeah. . . Lupoff. . . .

I cannot imagine that a Howard fan of my generation could hear the title Skull-Face and not think instantly of Richard A. Lupoff’s Edgar Rice Burroughs: Master of Adventure and his surprising assessment of that work — how the young Texan managed to out-Fu Fu-Manchu! The first edition of that book-length study of the creator of Tarzan and John Carter of Mars appeared in hardcover in 1965 from Canaveral Press, but it would be several more years before I began adding hardbacks to my own collection. The edition I read, along with everyone else, blazed into print in paperback from Ace Books in 1968, that bright red cover by Frank Frazetta recycled from an earlier Ace paperback of Burroughs’ The Beasts of Tarzan. And of course it was a Frazetta painting that had drawn my eye to Conan the Warrior the year before — Frazetta, a cornerstone figure for that era.  

In addition to profiling the many series launched by the prolific Burroughs, Lupoff looked at the extent of his influence and the many imitations that sprang up using Tarzan as a model. “These illegitimate descendants of Tarzan do raise a serious question concerning the matter of successor authors,” he wrote. “After having read a number of stories of various sorts by successor authors, over a period of years, I had prior to the past few months concluded that their products were universally inferior to the original. To the extent that a successor author maintained fidelity to the original his work was superfluous. To the extent that it varied from the original, it tended to fracture the structure of imagination created by the original author. Either way, the successor’s work would suffer.” Then Lupoff got to Robert E. Howard:

     I have come across one exception to this principle. It is Skull-Face, the title of the 1946 collection of Howard stories. Skull-Face was serialized in Weird Tales in 1929. . . a pastiche of the Fu Manchu stories of Sax Rohmer. Skull-Face is Dr. Fu just as clearly as he can be, portrayed as well as Rohmer ever portrayed him. Howard’s hero, the American Stephen Costigan, is far superior in conception and presentation to any of the men Rohmer ever put up against Fu. To the extent that Howard maintains fidelity to the original, his work is superior.

     To the extent that Howard does not rely upon Rohmer, he goes beyond Rohmer, extending rather than destroying the structure of the original author’s work. Rohmer had never fully explained the origin of Fu, although he often hinted an Egyptian identity of incredible antiquity. Howard carries back beyond Egypt, makes Skull-Face a survivor of sunken Atlantis, and brings the whole audacious thing off perfectly!

Yes. You could do literary criticism on Howard. You could do entire books on writers very much like Howard. That moment in Master of Adventure was exactly what I needed to see as a teenager to spur on dreams of doing criticism of the Texan of my own. And as a statement from 1965, it ranks in the forefront of modern reappraisals — recognizing that Howard was far more talented a writer than the mere pulp hack many commentators had dismissively portrayed him as being, if they mentioned his name at all.

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